Sunday, August 29, 2004

The hydrogen economy may get a big boost

One of the major drawbacks to the development of a hydrogen based economy is that hydrogen does not occur on Earth in its elemental form. In order to create pure hydrogen you have to expend energy to make it. Thus, hydrogen is an energy carrier, not an energy source; you still need a source of energy to make the hydrogen.

Now, Australian scientists are claiming to have developed a way to harnass solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Using special titanium oxide ceramics that harvest sunlight and split water to produce hydrogen fuel, the researchers say it will then be a simple engineering exercise to make an energy-harvesting device with no moving parts and emitting no greenhouse gases or pollutants.

It would be the cheapest, cleanest and most abundant energy source ever developed: the main by-products would be oxygen and water.

"This is potentially huge, with a market the size of all the existing markets for coal, oil and gas combined," says Professor Janusz Nowotny, who with Professor Chris Sorrell is leading a solar hydrogen research project at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Centre for Materials and Energy Conversion. The team is thought to be the most advanced in developing the cheap, light-sensitive materials that will be the basis of the technology.

"Based on our research results, we know we are on the right track and with the right support we now estimate that we can deliver a new material within seven years," says Nowotny.

The much touted fuel cell industry has faltered recently as technical problems remained unsolved. This new source of hydrogen may be an important boost to get fuel cells back on track.


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